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Russia deploys airspace umbrella

RIA Novosti

20:21 02/12/2011 RIA Novosti military commentator Konstantin Bogdanov - Russia has organized an aerospace defense branch. The new service branch consolidates units, troops and systems that once worked separately to keep the skies above the country clear.

The Aerospace Defense (ASD) system was organized at the direction of the Russian president and officially commenced on December 1.

"The first duty relief to be activated has taken responsibility for the missile attack warning system, anti-missile defense, air defense, space surveillance and satellite launch systems," ASD spokesman Colonel Alexei Zolotukhin said on Thursday.

All the way from ground to space

ASD is based on the space troops organization and consolidates the following sections:

- A missile attack warning system;

- A space surveillance system;

- A military space launch infrastructure:

- Air defense missile troops of the Air Force;

- The aerospace defense unified strategic command (earlier based on the Moscow missile defense system)

The branch is subdivided into three sections: the space command, the air and anti-missile defense command, and the Plesetsk military space center.

In this way, all available information on a possible aerospace attack and the control for engaging both ballistic and aerodynamic (aircraft and cruise missile) targets will be concentrated in one command system.

ASD troops now control all air defense radar stations, early warning radar systems and orbital intelligence systems (both ground- and satellite-based). Other facilities include S-300 aerospace defense brigades and Moscow's anti-missile defense system equipped with silo-launched interceptors of intercontinental warheads.

Hodgepodge inheritance

The Aerospace Defense branch is another attempt to do something with the Soviet legacy in such interlinked areas as anti-missile defense, the country's air defense, missile attack early warning systems, space surveillance, and military space infrastructure.

In fact, all these systems were established simultaneously and partly complemented one another. Many facilities to defend the Soviet Union from space were "unique and unmatched by anything else": the response measures were designed with special technology and principles of combat application.

Now the operational philosophy of the armed forces has changed. One can criticize specific points but the general trend is simple: Russia is trying to live within its means by integrating its forces and using "all-purpose platforms."

It has been specifically noted that existing systems still capable of being upgraded (A-135 anti-missile system of the Moscow industrial area) should be interfaced with new weapons and information systems to be aligned with the aerospace defense system in the coming years.

The question is how it will all be integrated in practice. It has often been argued, when testing automatic battle management facilities, that some or all systems should be integrated. Integration programs so far have entailed providing two monitor screens for one operator and thus displaying the combat situations from two different systems, not an automatic exchange of data between them.

The A-135 system is classified, but what is known about its predecessor - (A-35M) - makes one pause: developers of future synchronized mobile aerospace defense systems are facing challenging problems.

Real and contemplated weapons

Under the weapons procurement program until 2020, 56 battalions in the armed forces are to be equipped with S-400 air defense systems (four battalions have already received the equipment, another two to four will receive it by early 2012) and ten battalions will received S-500 systems (the program is in the first phase of its development).

The last system, it seems, will bear the main burden of anti-missile duties. According to military experts, the system will include a missile for the exo-atmospheric interception of ballistic targets. The S-500 system, according to plans, will be deployed after 2015.

By 2015, incidentally, the Mints Radio Engineering Institute (which has developed most of our early warning radar) promises to roll out a fully prefabricated radar unit called the Mars. It is a mobile version of the Voronezh radar system now being adopted in Russia's missile attack early warning system. It is reasonable to assume that the two systems (the S-500 and the Mars) are being developed in tandem as a weapon and information means of anti-missile defense.

The tortuous progress in heavy systems development has already brought Russia's air defense to a peculiar state. Unable to select a unified platform for the country's, army and navy air defense systems in the 1970s, the ministry purchased all three and demanded "maximum unification" (which was achieved only nominally because of the different approaches to designs).

As a result, the army and air defenses are now facing a decision between two design-different but purpose-similar anti-aircraft systems. One is the S-400, which has succeeded the "anti-aircraft" S-300P, taught to intercept tactical ballistic missiles. And the other is the S-300VM/BMD Antei-2500, a derivative of the army's S-300V missile hunter, which has been successful in hitting aerodynamic targets. The logic is forcing these two systems, for all their distinctions, to look increasingly alike.

Current plans, in this class, provide for only S-400s and Vityaz systems - the next generation of medium-range surface-to-air systems, which must supersede the earlier S-300Ps. No confirmed plans for the army's heavy AD systems have been announced, with just a few hints that available S-300Vs will be upgraded to S-300V4s.

This shows that, on the one hand, Russia's aerospace defense is only beginning to integrate its weapons systems. On the other, the overall amount set aside for rearmament (about 20 trillion rubles for the next ten years), as seen against the background of continued difficulties in the industry, often compels the military to make simple decisions: what to take and what to discard.

For the moment it is hard to say how much the Antei anti-ballistic technology will be needed for the development of the S-500. But, judging from decisions made public, the focus on the Antei-Almaz approach as a single platform in aerospace defenses is becoming increasingly obvious.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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